Because I had to.

Because I had to.

Deep Breath

The only thing I remember from season two of Sherlock (other than the neutering of Irene Adler) is the multiple teases of Sherlock and Watson as a couple. I don’t think it would be controversial to presume this was done as the writers throwing a bone to the shippers among their audience; calling it ‘pandering’ may be a bit much but it feels it was done less as an organic development of the characters and more as ‘giving the viewers what they want.’ It was inoffensive for what it was, but it represented something I’ve also seen in Moffat’s time as series head for Doctor Who: the need to keep the fans happy and the allowance of this need to influence character and story.

And I couldn’t not think of that as I was (finally) watching Deep Breath last night. It wasn’t the little things, like bringing back Madame Vastra and company for this story. I can appreciate the value of that decision, giving Clara someone she knows to interact with as we go through another post-regeneration story and the Doctor has to figure out who he is (again). And setting aside time for Strax’s comedy is always welcome, even if it fell flat this time.

But bringing back Matt Smith for one last scene? And more to the point, making Clara’s story all about “How can I accept an old man as the Doctor?” Were Moffat and company really that concerned about fangirls not having a leading man to swoon over? Am I unfair to see things that way? I don’t think so. I try to hold my tongue about this, because when we get down to it it doesn’t affect me, but there’s this unavoidable current among the fandom that Tennant and Smith were/are treated as little more than eye candy or whatever the male equivalent of ‘mai waifu’ is. One of the reasons I welcome Capaldi as the Doctor is because it will (hopefully) send the shippers to their own little corner for a while.

But then his first episode is built upon how Clara can’t gush over him now, like Rose did Tennant and Amy did Smith. This is actually the first time I’ve felt there was any real character to Clara (she’s just been a plot device until now) and it ends up making her shallow. Boo.

No comment on Capaldi, since as I said above this is the post-regeneration episode, and those almost never give the actor a chance to play the character as he is. It’s usually about figuring out who he is this time around and then in later episodes we see the new Doctor as a fully realized character. So I’ll hold judgment until I see episodes two and three, but I have little reason to doubt Capaldi’s acting chops. He was a little cartoonish at times in this episode, I don’t know if going forward he’s supposed to be jokey or Cloud Cuckoolandish, but we’ll see if that sticks.

Random question: who was Capaldi’s favorite Doctor, either growing up or now? I’m wondering if he’s basing his performance on, say, Tom Baker the way Smith was said to be influenced by Troughton.

The story itself started out interesting; not the dinosaur in Victorian England part (that smacked of sensationalism, and the way it was contained to one place because Madame Vastra just happened to have the necessary technology on hand was far too pat), but the robot stealing a guy’s eyes and then the restaurant populated with mechanical people had my attention. But then it devolved into a reboot of Girl in the Fireplace, which a) is an episode I have mixed feelings for and b) makes Moffat seem a little… narcissistic? uninspired? by revisiting one of his own stories. I can accept the threat in a post-regeneration story needs to be kept small because that’s not the real hook of the episode, but ideas like the spaceship that’s been buried for millions of years (and really, how many times has that been done in Doctor Who now? Closing Time did that back in series six) and then the hot air balloon and the android’s desire to reach the promised land? Along with tying into Fireplace it makes the story feel a bit too… diffuse. It’s not as contained as it ideally would be.

Compare Eleventh Hour, with a threat to the entire world, yes, but the impetus being nothing more than an escaped prisoner; it’s self-contained even with the grandiosity of the entire world being at stake. Deep Breath, in the latter half, starts to feel like it’s getting away from itself, raising ideas and questions beyond what was a simple little story.

And that whole thing with ‘who posted the advertisement?’ and the epilogue and oh joy another mysterious woman who has a thing for the Doctor. Because I guess River Song has been drained of all her narrative potential but Moffat can’t let that concept go. I may be in the minority asking this but couldn’t the series let go of the overaching stories and unanswered questions for a while? The whole thing with the Silence and Trenzalore ended up fizzling out after all the build-up, and Moffat has already blown up the entire universe once. Couldn’t we just have a series made up of self-contained stories where the Doctor and his companion explore time and space, getting to know themselves and one another without this big mystery hanging over everything?

I like how Russell T. Davies would have arc words in each series, because it hinted at what was to come in the finales, but they were never front and center, demanding our attention. The thing that bugs me about how Moffat does it is we’re smacked in the face with the cracks or the mysterious woman popping out of nowhere, but there’s never a way for us to figure out where this is going. A good mystery story will drop clues throughout the narrative, giving the audience the possibility to piece together the solution on their own. But Moffat’s mysteries don’t allow that; we can only sit back, passive, until an infodump in the finale is delivered. It’s not as engaging.

Overall this was a good-not-great episode, but there are structural flaws to the series and Moffat’s vision.

dunesen:

In the Toy Story movies the toys act inanimate when people are around, but they have the ability to demonstrate their conscious existence to humans, as we see at the end of the first movie when they traumatize Sid.

But it’s never explained why they have to or choose to act…

But how is their desire to bring happiness conditional upon maintaining the illusion they’re inanimate. Wouldn’t their ability to bring joy to others be increased if they could interact with them?

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin City is packaged as a noir series, but that’s inaccurate. Frank Miller populates the stories with larger-than-life characters closer in spirit to superhero comics than classic noir. Maybe there’s an overlapping with pulp novels and their overly macho heroes, but Marv or Dwight, two of the recurring protagonists in this series, are almost cartoonish in their invulnerability. Twice in this movie Dwight is thrown out a window, once after being shot, and he all but shrugs it off.

And then there’s the stories. The first movie included a cannibalistic killer, a bright-yellow pedophile, and the threat of a war between police officers and armed hookers. None of those is quite ‘noir;’ none of them is quite ‘crime story.’ They’re comic book ideas, not noir or pulp.

A Dame to Kill For – both the movie and the titular segment – is the closest the series gets to true noir, and I’ll be frank: Eva Green in classic femme fatale mode makes the movie worthwhile by herself.

But beyond that, ADKF is good for toning down the silly invincibility of its heroes (a bit) and the implausibility of its stories (quite a bit). Beyond Green as a manipulative witch there’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a card shark with a personal score to settle with Powers Boothe and Jessica Alba returning as a stripper who… has a personal score to settle with Powers Boothe. Both of those stories are originals for the movie, the latter a follow-up to the Bruce Willis-centric story in the first movie, and while it’s a welcome move to present an all-too-believable villain (a corrupt senator who hoards his power is so much easier to swallow than the Yellow Bastard) Boothe is never given a chance to do more than twirl his mustache and remind people he’s evil, his reputation doing more than any specific actions he commits.

Which is a missed opportunity for this movie to line up to true noir. Noir is born in the gutter, among the refuse and scraps discarded by an affluent culture and looking up at the lights and stars that promise paradise or redemption or something ever out of reach. It’s a genre that seizes desire and yearning with both hands, not letting go even if it burns or freezes because it can never ignore either the good or the bad. It’s gray and gray, not black and white, but ADKF and Sin City as a whole never quite capture that. Boothe’s character could have been a great gateway for showing the rottenness permeating society as a whole, rather than only a certain subsection of the population, as if ‘criminal’ is a class unto itself.

ADKF is not without its silly elements – Stacy Keach wearing a prosthetic toad head? – but for the most part it hews truer to the idea of noir. The visual effects and style of the first movie still look interesting, but they’re not as innovative now.

ADKF is, ultimately, able to establish itself as its own thing apart from its predecessor, even if the visuals and returning characters go perhaps a little too far in trying to make people remember the first movie.

Book 42: Satoshi Kon

Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist by Andrew Osmond (A-)

A cloud hangs over this book. Published in the relatively brief period between the completion and release of Paprika and Kon’s passing, this book is a complete look at Kon’s career written without the knowledge or viewpoint of being complete. The afterword touches on Kon’s never-to-be realized fifth movie, looking ahead to the next phase of a career that had already reached its climax.

This does not detract from Osmond’s analysis of Kon’s works individually or alongside one another, but that last piece of the puzzle – the entirety of Kon’s oeuvre as a single unit – is missing. Because Osmond didn’t know he was looking at a complete career he never examines any part from that angle, so this book can not quite be said to be the definitive examination of Kon’s output.

But what can be added? Well, there’s room for more in-depth analysis, I’m sure. In any of the movies or the TV series there’s scenes or moments or character beats that can be highlighted and dissected, though the brevity of the book is not due to a superficial analysis. I’d be interested in an expanded edition of this book, one written now with the knowledge that the four movies and one show are all that will ever carry Kon’s name.

And perhaps a look at his legacy, with notes on how Black Swan and Inception owe much to Kon’s works. Just a thought.

Book 41: My first Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (B)

I’ll never be as acclaimed a writer as Ernest Hemingway, I’ll never win a Nobel Prize, and even if I do get a book written and published it probably won’t be remembered after I die.

So yes, who am I to criticize Hemingway in any way? Who am I to say an established classic like this is not deserving of an unadulterated ‘A’? And just how nuts am I to give him a ‘B’? Do I not fear that he will claw his way out of the ground and hunt me down for revenge?

Fourth question: I fear it. First and second question: I’m a guy giving his opinion, that’s who.

Like The Great Gatsby I did not, could not approach Sun just as a book. Hemingway’s enduring legacy and status among American letters makes this A Classic Novel. In other words, something you are supposed to experience more than consume. But also like Gatsby, Sun’s significance comes from being one of those works that so perfectly mirrors the time and world that created it that it practically defines them. It may have a timeless quality, but it’s more a timely work.

This came through for me in the dialogue more than anything. Unlike Shakespearan English or 60’s hippie slang, the jargon of the 20’s hasn’t been carried on in the decades since via movies and TV and parodies of the time period. I could understand what was being said via context (the plot is thin, more on that in a second), but it was just so alien that it took me longer to read than it should have. And yes, the fact that I couldn’t go through this as fast as I expected was an issue. There is challenging and there is dense, and dense does not equal good. If Hemingway had written today I’m sure I would have had no trouble because we’d be speaking the same language.

That’s not Hemingway’s fault, but it does lower the book in my eyes because it affected my experience reading it.

The real problem for me was the paperthin plot and the pages and pages where stuff happens but a story doesn’t. Sure, that’s his style. I get it. But as I’ve said before, I am a narrative driven reader/viewer. I have to be drawn into a series of events leading from one place to another. It doesn’t have to be spectacle, outward action. Inner growth works, and Sun certainly sets up something like that with Jake (the narrator’s) personal troubles and his not-quite-relationship with Brett. The meandering in the first act and their coming back together in the third could have led to something, but the expected (if pedestrian) outpouring of feelings and expression of what is being kept hidden never comes.

Would the book have been better had this resolution, any resolution, taken place? It’s not so easy to say yes. Sure, it would be more conventional and I would be able to get into it easier, but that doesn’t mean it would make for a better work. I understand where Hemingway was after World War I, I understand the mood of the Lost Generation, and I absolutely understand that not everyone can lay their emotions out like movie characters do. Withholding the inner thoughts of Jake and Brett is truer and in keeping with the tone than anything else would have been, and this book would have been forgotten in time otherwise.

The truth that spawned this book is what also ensures its significance, and I’m not about to say it isn’t an important book for its power to evoke a specific mood in a specific point in time. But that doesn’t mean it works for me as a reader. Simply taking in the story via the prose, reading what Hemingway put in and piecing what he left out, I’m satisfied but not blown away. That’s my honest appraisal.

Guardians of the Galaxy

I saw it last Thursday, but I don’t have anything special to say about it other than I loved it, it’s hilarious, and it’s better than the Avengers. I’ll definitely see it again soon.

Here’s a question

In the Toy Story movies the toys act inanimate when people are around, but they have the ability to demonstrate their conscious existence to humans, as we see at the end of the first movie when they traumatize Sid.

But it’s never explained why they have to or choose to act inanimate. Why the lack of self-preservation in maintaining the illusion that they are nothing but bits of plastic and other materials. So why do they?

Empire!

I knew it! I knew forgot a movie. The Empire Strikes Back.

It even takes place at a frigging school!

professorerudite:

dunesen:

Why didn’t Harry Potter ever study magic? It would have been a big help in fighting Voldemort, I’m sure.

(Please don’t point out others have raised this objection before. I’m sure somebody, somewhere has, but it’s been bothering me for so long I just need to get my thoughts out for my own sake.)

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This is such an accurate analysis of the Harry Potter series. Thank you for writing it.

Someone read it! Wow!